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Settlers will vote outside of Israeli territory

By Associated Press in Jerusalem | China Daily | Updated: 2015-02-27 07:35

When Israelis go to the polls next month, tens of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank will also be casting votes, even though they do not live on what is sovereign Israeli territory.

This exception in a country that doesn't allow absentee voting for citizens living abroad is a telling reflection of Israel's somewhat ambiguous and highly contentious claim to the territory, which has been under military occupation for almost a half century.

Over the years, Israel has cultivated a separate legal system there. The Palestinians are ultimately governed by Israeli military rule - while Israel's own criminal and civilian laws apply to more than 350,000 Jewish settlers in a way they cannot apply to Israeli expats.

The settlers' voting rights stem from Israel's 1969 election law that stipulates "there will only be voting on Israeli land", with exceptions made for diplomats and soldiers serving on naval vessels. The law was amended the following year - when the settlement movement was in its infancy - to allow voting by Israelis "whose address is listed in the population registry located in territory held by the Israel Defense Forces".

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and began settling the territory soon after. The Palestinians, backed by most of the international community, claim the area as part of their independent state, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza, a tiny coastal strip with 2 million Palestinians now ruled by Hamas. The West Bank is a more complex issue, full of Biblical history and strategic significance.

Israel never annexed the West Bank, due to intense international opposition and the demographic complications of incorporating its more than 2 million Palestinians into Israel.

Annexation would have meant giving the Palestinians in the West Bank citizenship and the right to vote in Israeli elections, threatening Israel's Jewish majority. Israel proper today has some six million Jews and almost two million Israeli Arab citizens.

However, Israeli leaders have said they want to keep at least parts of the territory under a final peace deal with the State of Palestine. And they have filled much of the area with Jewish communities - which does not normally occur in an area that is merely militarily occupied.

The settlers' right to vote is considered a given by most Israelis, including many who oppose the settlement project. They also enlist for compulsory military service and pay taxes and even speeding tickets to Israeli authorities. Settlers can also serve in Israel's Parliament and hold office: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is an example.



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